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So Where Are We Exactly on AI and Streaming Residuals?
Two must-listen pods: one with SAG neg comm members, another with Fran Drescher, will give you some clarity in a sea of confusion
Hey folks, I’m baaack.
The last week or so has been a ride. And I’m not even talking about the craziness (if you’ve been following) over at OpenAI and the removal, then maybe return, then final removal of its CEO, Sam Altman. At issue: at least in part, communication and disputes internally around the existential ethical questions and controllability of AI.
Since SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers struck an agreement over a new three-year contract, bringing a months-long strike to an end, the union’s membership is now in review mode, learning more from guild-hosted informational sessions and looking over the 18-page summary provided.
Pockets of disagreement have arisen over the embedded artificial intelligence protections — whether they’re strong enough, what exactly they cover, how sure the membership can be of these guardrails when they’ve so far been provided with a summary and not the entire memorandum of agreement.
To help me make sense of the nitty gritty, I asked longtime actors and SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee members Michelle Hurd (Star Trek: Picard, Blindspot) and Kevin E. West (Criminal Minds, The Righteous Gemstones) to come on The Ankler podcast and break it down. They spoke with us last week, days after we had SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland on the podcast after the guild’s big press conference on Nov. 10.
One question that keeps coming up: Does this mean that the studios will eventually have AI replicas of every performer? Won’t this put a lot of people out of work?
Not quite, says Hurd.
“You make the digital replica and then you’re going to store it,” she explains. “It’s the storing, really, that’s expensive. Maybe if you have scanned and created a digital replica of Brad Pitt, that is helpful. Like you can do that: you will store that because you can use Brad Pitt. But to utilize it, to store all of us — just any actor — in some kind of vault is just is not financially smart or even efficient for any studio. So that’s not going to happen.”
“Here’s another thing I just want to make clear because everybody’s freaking out,” she adds. “They’re saying, well, you know, what if I don’t want to be scanned? I understand that. But again, using my example, if you are auditioning for a Marvel movie and you’re auditioning, say, to play a superhero. If you don’t want to be scanned... Then you don’t want to play that part because you’re going to have to be flying in the air. And unless you have some special skills that I have not learned about they’re going to need a digital double.”
And there may even be benefits to having a digital double, says West.
“That may eventually get to the place where that comes into play that I do four days of a guest star instead of four days out of eight, and they want to use digital replica for two of those days, and for two days I'm there as a human but we're still getting compensated for that, plus P&H plus residuals,” he says.
As for all the talk of “synthetic” performers — say, creating an AI actor that has George Clooney’s eyes and Julia Roberts’ mouth — Crabtree-Ireland says the new contract offers “assurance that your facial features aren't going to be incorporated into some, as some people would call it, like a Frankenstein output, without your consent.”
He says the guild is “obviously very concerned about that because it has implications for the future of work in the industry for actors. And there also are implications for consent because our view is that actors shouldn't be incorporated into an output like that without their consent. So we had to fight to find middle ground. The companies really did not want to agree to anything in this space. I think probably because they're sort of afraid of what that might mean in the future for things they haven't even figured out yet.”
Listen to my chat with Drescher and Crabtree-Ireland here:
And, as always, I want to hear from you. Talk to me, whenever: email@example.com. Thanks for reading.